Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Whittier, AK May 2nd and 3rd

The ash from Redoubt has been bringing me down.  The snow is melting fast in areas most severely affected: Hatcher, Eagle River, Anchorage.  However; there was a rumor that one area was spared: Whittier.  This small fishing/tourist town on Prince William Sound about 60 miles from Anchorage became more isolated when a  huge rock slide closed the only road into town.   Fortunately the rail line was unaffected and the state began offering 3 trips a day from Portage to Whittier at no cost.  All you need to do is call the Alaska Railroad and make reservations.
Early May in Whittier typically brings hoards of snow-machiners, but the road closure is keeping them out this year.  So early Saturday morning I made the 45 minute drive to Portage to catch the free train and see what Whittier had to offer.  The train ride was odd.  There were fisherman, Anchorage folks day tripping, local residents, and lots of dogs.  I had never been to Whittier and had no idea what to expect.  No maps, no beta, no clue.  I noticed some other skiers on the train and they offered some insight: "Go to the tallest building in town and skin up. " That works.  

On the ride we saw moose, eagles, and lines galore.  The 1st tunnel is short: about a mile.  The 2nd is 2.5 miles and when you pop out you in another world.  Towering ash free peaks.  A small harbor.  Several feet of snow a sea level.  The tallest building in town was about 1/4 mile away.  I skinned up about 500' vert to 500' above sea level and set up a camp on a bench overlooking the town and the harbor.  Mountains buried with ash free snow under bluebird windless skies complemented the peace and quiet nicely.  

I climbed through 2 bowls and crossed a part of Whittier glacier.  I could see a summit.  Lower Eastern False Ridge Bump Peak.  Despite its unimpressive name, the views were breathtaking. 

The peak sits at about 3,000' dividing Whittier Bay from Blackstone Bay.  Having no clue where I was going I was shocked to see another bay on the other side of this peak.  Blackstone Bay has nearly a dozen glaciers the descend to near sea level.  Two of them, the Blackstone and the Beloit, reach the ocean.  Whittier has stormy windy winters that tend to compact the snow better than anywhere else in the Anchorage area.  The snow was epic: supportable and consolidated.  This area gives you unlimited options from  steep couloirs to rolling bowls to monster ice fields.  Since I was solo, I decided to "easy style it."  Huge turns though 3" deep corn into the rolling 35 degree bowls brought me back to camp.  Normally skiing such deep corn is bad etiquette because the turns freeze up solid overnight leaving death trenches for folks the following morning.  Since I didn't see one other track the entire day, my trench farming was guilt free.  I was dehydrated and hungry.  The sun was starting to take its toll on the snow so I called it a day and started to melt snow and make dinner.

The next morning dawned warm and clear.  It hadn't dropped below freezing but the evaporative cooling produced a nice 1" of fresh corn.   I retraced my steps to the same peak just to see that view one more time.  The corn was perfect.  1" on supportable.  Back to camp, back to the train, and back to Anchorage.

The snow should hold up for another 3 weeks plus.  The road will be closed for at least 2 more months, so the skiing will remain 2-stroke free.  It is by far and away the best skiing within 100 miles of Anchorage this spring.  After sussing the terrain and snow depth, I must apologize for not bringing any the Utah Team members to this area.  Whittier is now one of my top destinations for winter and spring skiing.  

The Port of Whittier

The free ride

Day 2: Two tracks (both mine)

Advanced Base Camp

The glassy waters of Blackstone Bay

Looking out into Prince William Sound

Tidewater Glaciers: Beloit and Blackstone

Sussing from the train: Portage


  1. Wow! That looks amazing. I can only imagine standing on top and staring at ocean and snow with my big daddy's. btw, I just figured out how to comment so get ready....

  2. awesome pics of prince william sound and the blackstone glacier. very cool perspective.